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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Land Tenure (to the End of the Ptolemaic Period)


Land tenure describes the regime by means of which land is owned or possessed, whether by landholders, private owners, tenants, sub-lessees, or squatters. It embraces individual or group rights to occupy and/or use the land, the social relationships that may be identified among the rural population, and the converging influences of the local and central power structures. Features in the portrait of ancient Egyptian land tenure that may be traced over time in response to changing configurations of government include state and institutional landownership, private smallholdings, compulsory labor (corvée), cleruchies, leasing, and tenancy. Such documents as Papyrus Harris I, the Wilbour Papyrus, Papyrus Reinhardt, and the Ptolemaic Zenon and Menches archives provide evidence of various regimes of landholding, the status of the landholders, their relationship to the land, and the way in which the harvest was divided among cultivators, landowners, and the state. Ptolemaic leases and conveyances of land represent the perspective of individual landowners and tenants.

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